Business / COVID-19 / Entrepreneurs / Social media

Now is the time for entrepreneurs to adapt and innovate

Forced social distancing can be considered "a major opportunity" to force the learning of new skills and collaboration with other businesses, says Wilmington marketer Malcolm Coley.

Malcolm Coley, cofounder of Influencer Lab Media. (Courtesy photo by Sam Smith Photography)

The suspension of life as we know it came quickly for many who are still reeling from school and workplace closures, as well as sometimes-shocking panic behavior at grocery stores. Many now sit at home wondering what’s next, and trying to fathom eight weeks or more of social distancing — and the loss of income that may come with it.

Malcolm Coley, marketing entrepreneur and cofounder of Influencers Lab Media based out of the WIN Factory, sees the State of Emergency and social distancing orders as an opportunity to adapt, innovate and form collaborations that might not have happened otherwise.

“It’s a major opportunity,” Coley told “I’m gonna be very transparent — I’m Black. So my culture as a whole has always innovated through struggle. For me personally, that thing has clicked on in my mind that it’s time to innovate through struggle.”

Social distancing, he said, is what the internet is all about.

“The internet, in a sense, is social distancing,” Coley said. “We’re distant and we’re connected by these free distribution channels — Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and all of that.”

If social media makes you think of vapid “influencers” who all somehow have the same nose, the coronavirus pandemic may change that landscape. With few to no face-to-face options — no conferences or conventions or in-person workshops — the internet is going to be not only your source of entertainment and news, but your place for shopping and dining, your bank, classroom, concert venue and even your gym.

If it seems like that’s the way it’s already been over the last decade, wait until the IRL versions of those places have been off-limits for a couple of weeks.

It’s a huge opportunity for collaboration between businesses, Coley said.

If you take just 30 minutes to an hour out of a 24-hour time period, you can learn and teach yourself skills that will teach you to expand your business, especially in this time that we're living in.

“In order for any small businesses that is used to walk-up traffic to thrive, they’re going to have to collaborate with people who have influence on digital platforms,” he said. “If someone isn’t walking up to your business right now, then how are you going to sell products? How are you going to be in a position if you don’t put yourself out there in this digital landscape?”

“Influencers,” in terms of local collaboration, doesn’t necessarily mean finding local Instagrammers with a million followers. On a local level (especially in a small city like Wilmington), influencers with highly engaged followings of a few thousand can be extremely valuable.

“You can have influencers like [Influencers Lab Media cofounder] Newdy [Felton], who can make phone calls to 50 people who have influence over three or four communities in the area, and whatever it is that they say, people will listen,” he said. “On the digital landscape, there are influencers with 5,000 followers who have high engagement because their brand is so targeted and so niche to the local area, and people who follow them are focused on what’s going on around the town. They’re extremely important because they know what to do in the area.”

In addition to local collaboration, right now is the right time to expand your business’s online presence — especially if you some or all of your typical work is normally done offline.

“It’s always interesting to me when people say ‘I don’t do online’ this or that,” Coley said. “I’m thinking well, ‘Youtube University‘ is a real thing. Take the time to learn how to do Instagram or Facebook, or you could take the time to learn how to build your own website. If you [sell a physical product], there are so many platforms. If you take just 30 minutes to an hour out of a 24-hour time period, you can learn and teach yourself skills that will teach you to expand your business, especially in this time that we’re living in.”

If you’re really good at something and your job is curbed by social distancing, consider teaching your skills on one of the many classroom platforms like Udemy, where you can set a price for classes.

But whether you put up a cooking class on Udemy or a product on Etsy, the internet is not a magic bullet, even as virtually everyone turns to it for things they didn’t before.

When it comes to social media marketing, “you’ve got to work, you’ve got to be creative, and you’ve got to be innovative,” Coley said. “We are literally restructuring how people see business.”

The “new normal” in a few months time could be a lot more different than we might expect, if people adapt and get creative.

“This is a period of time where this unfortunate thing has happened, and I want everyone to be safe, healthy, take care of their families,” Coley said. “We might not ever have a time like this ever again. It’s time to really be wise and do what’s necessary in order or you to win for the next 10 to 15 years, because this moment right now is a moment when you can do that.”

Series: Coronavirus

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